Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Paxinos Cross - Something To Look Up To

Last year, I was asked to write a story was about the history of a giant cross that was erected by a group of boy scouts here in Paxinos, Pa in the early 1960's.  I was fortunate enough to meet and talk with many of those original boy scouts and to now call them friends.  Every year on the Saturday before Easter they host an Easter service up on the mountain where a cross still stands.  This year, the service will take place on Saturday, Aprill 11th at 2:30pm.  To attend, meet at Clark's Grove Church at 1:30pm to follow the group up to the cross.   Martin Reigel, mentioned in the story below, will be the speaker at this year's service.

Written by Jocelyn Christensen

On a crisp Good Friday morning in 1961, a small band of Boy Scouts from Explorer Troop 250 began their ascent up Paxinos Mountain in Irish Valley. They climbed up a small steep path for over a mile carrying nails and raw lumber to erect a symbol of their faith - a 14-foot tall cross that would be visible to motorists traveling through Shamokin on Route 61 and to the surrounding community for miles around.

Little did they know that their humble, anonymous display would affect the lives of an entire generation and would still be standing as a local landmark nearly 50 years later.  "Of all the goofy things we did as kids, this was just one goofy thing that actually worked out," says Ron Miller, son of the man whose idea it was to put up the cross: Scoutmaster Johnny Miller. Ron, who now lives in Texas, recalls hauling heavy 2-by-12 wood beams up the steepest part of the mountain - a feat he chalks up to youth and sheer tenacity. "We weren't going to be told that we couldn't do it!" adds Miller. Fellow Scout George Nye of Danville recalls they built the cross using materials that had been anonymously donated and generously loaned. In order to make the cross visible at night, the boys employed good old-fashioned thriftiness and ingenuity. "We didn't have generators, so I convinced my dad to let us have two headlights and a car battery. We rigged them up to illuminate the cross. It worked great," Nye says with a laugh, "but I had to climb the mountain every couple of days to replace the battery." "We didn't do it to earn a merit badge," explains former Scout Gary Lewis of Danville. "We were just a bunch of boys out for an adventure." "I don't think any of us envisioned what it would mean to us years later," adds fellow Scout Marty Reigel.

As the tight-knit group of teenage boys graduated and moved on with their lives, the cross served as an anchor—inspiring them to become leaders and men of character in their professions.   Their legacy also inspired future scouts to continue the tradition of caring for the cross.


Harvey Buriak of Danville practically grew up on Paxinos Mountain.  For almost as long as he can remember, the cross has been a part of his life.  In fact, he built his first house on family-owned land adjacent to the mountain.  From his living room, he had a perfect view of the cross.


It was only fitting that under scoutmaster Buriak’s direction new generations of scouts began maintaining and making improvements to the cross.  In 1986, the troop replaced the original cross with a much larger one.  The cross that stands now is 26 feet tall and 12 feet wide and can be seen three miles away.  Later, scouts added benches for visitors and reflective material that makes the cross glow in the dark from the flash of a headlight and shine in broad daylight.  The effect is stunning. 


Each year since 1986, the current scouts of Troop 250 have held an Easter service at the cross on the Saturday before Easter.  The mountaintop service is open to the public and regularly draws over 100 people.  While gathering at the cross, service-goers enjoy a breath-taking ten-mile wide view of the valley.


Many notable figures have come from various walks of life and corners of the world to speak at the Easter cross service.  In 2006, before State Representative Frank Andrews Shimkus was elected to office, the former news anchor and ordained minister told the congregation how the cross grounded him during a night when his life seemed to be flying out of control.  "I was losing my wife to a mental illness that doctors told me was untreatable,” said Andrews.  That night, overcome by grief, “I shook my fist at God…and then I started driving,” he continued, “When I saw the cross, my heart was softened.”


“This [cross] is an Easter tradition, but it means so much more,” said Andrews, referring to the hundred or so Boy Scouts who have worked on the cross through the years. 


“We hear about all the bad things that kids are doing these days,” says Buriak, “These kids that work on the cross are good kids, doing good things, carrying on a good tradition.” 


In fact, Boy Scout Troop 250, which is affiliated with the Clark’s Grove United Methodist Church in Irish Valley, has turned out a remarkable number of upstanding men in the community—doctors, businessmen, military servicemen, valedictorians, and Eagle Scouts.  By one accounting, 50 percent of the troop’s scouts achieve the Eagle Scout award, which is the highest award in scouting.  The national average is two percent.


Those responsible for the cross and for the training of these boys are slow to take credit for their contributions to the many lives that they have touched, but if there is one mantra that Harvey Buriak lives by, it is “train up a child in the way he should go and when he is older, he will not depart from it.” 


Former scout Marty Reigel says that although it gives him a great sense of pride to see the next generation of scouts carrying on the tradition that he and his contemporaries began, “We didn’t do it to draw attention to ourselves.  We did it to draw attention to the Lord and to give people something to look up to…to give people hope.”


Plenty of people have had the opportunity to be inspired by the cross over the years.  PennDOT estimates that more than 6,300 people drive past the cross every day while traveling that stretch of Route 61.  However, according to Ron Miller’s calculations, “If it has influenced just one person, then it was worth it.”


In 2006, 45 years after the boys erected the original cross, their leader Johnny Miller finally received public recognition for their inspiring effort when Shamokin Township Supervisor John Klinger officially declared April 15th “Johnny Miller Day.”


“We will keep that cross going long after Johnny Miller and the others are gone,” says Klinger, “It stands as a reminder of what they did up there all those years ago, and more importantly, it is a reminder of what the Lord has done for all of us.”

1 comment:

  1. enjoyed your interesting article...saw a fun idea today in the Ensign magazine for this month about making an easter basket filled with church stuff-scriptures, marking pencils, children's hymn book, etc. Check it out.